I’m sitting in a hotel room in Chicago. I’ve spent the past 4 days traveling on business: a hectic go-go-go of planes, trains, heavy suitcases, and work, all of which has left me exhausted. I have 3 hours before I leave for my flight home.
Looking out the window, I see a gorgeous Midwestern spring day: temperatures in the 50s, the sun sparkling on Lake Michigan and its backdrop of soaring skyscrapers. To a gal from small-town New England, this is territory begging to be explored.
Yet I hesitate. I feel sick; nauseous, crampy. Do I really want to go exploring, feeling like this? What if I get 20 blocks from the hotel and need to find a restroom? Am I just being a wimp?
In the end, I force myself to eat some yogurt and cereal, and head out. As I walk towards the rising sun - through Grant Park, green and inviting in the warm March air - I start to relax and feel better.
I cross the highway and reach the park bordering the lake. The sun-splashed water is a mild khaki-green today, lapping against the walkway’s concrete foundation. The light breeze is chilly, but the sun on my face is beautifully hot. A seagull wheels overhead.
I close my eyes, and gradually start to feel better.
It’s experiences like this that reinforce my decision to discontinue the Actonel I’ve been taking for osteopenia. I started taking it last April, so it’s been nearly a year. And over the course of the past 12 months, I’ve gradually been feeling worse and worse. Nausea. Diarrhea. Just"¦ unwell.
I’ve never been someone who gets sick. I’ve had an iron constitution since childhood, when I went years without missing a single day of school.
And I especially never had stomach or digestive issues; the occasional cold might make me reach for some cough syrup, but nothing ever seemed to bother my gut.
I take Arimidex , a medication that helps prevent a recurrence of the breast cancer I went through 8 years ago. And one of the side effects of Arimidex is bone loss. I’d been on the Arimidex 4 years when my every-other-year DEXA scan showed dropping T-scores; I didn’t have osteoporosis, but was headed that way quickly.
I dutifully read up on osteoporosis treatment. Lifestyle changes? My doctor said I was already a poster child for a healthy lifestyle, with a good diet, daily exercise, no smoking, and only the occasional glass of wine.
So that left drugs. Bisphosphonates .
My oncologist recommended Fosamax. But I didn’t like what I’d read about it; the jaw necrosis and ensuing lawsuits scared me off. I liked what I read about Actonel, and how quickly it took effect.
I learned that all bisphosphonates - Boniva, Fosamax, Actonel - have potential gastrointestinal side effects. But I figured, with my healthy stomach, I wouldn’t experience them.
I was wrong.
I was OK for a couple of months, but since then, I’ve suffered through regular, random bouts of distress. I never know when they’re going to hit; so it’s hard to plan social activities, work-related travel, or anything that I really want to feel healthy for.
I can deal with being nauseous at home. But on a plane? At a fancy restaurant? No thanks.
I’ll be completing 5 years of Arimidex in June. I’ve been under active cancer treatment since 2001; this will be the first time in 9 years that I won’t be taking a daily pill, beyond the vitamins and supplements. And I’m ready; Arimidex side effects also include aching joints and bones. I’m REALLY looking forward to finally feeling better.
So I’ve decided: the day I take my final Arimidex pill is the week I take my final Actonel, with its 8 ounces of water and no food and remaining upright for 60 minutes"¦ its nausea and cramps. Perhaps without Arimidex, my bone loss will slow down. Maybe the Actonel has given me some long-lasting protection.
And maybe not.
But no matter. I’m willing to take a chance on osteoporosis. Frankly, I think the possibility is minimal. Even if my T-scores drop into the osteoporosis zone, I’m not a good candidate for fractures: no family history, wrong body type, plenty of calcium and vitamin D in my diet, lots of the right kinds of exercise.
There comes a point in any chronic illness when the patient says, "I’ve had enough." I’ve reached that point. I’ve made the decision: quality of life trumps fighting disease.
This decision might seem short-sighted; why don’t I just tough it out for a few more years, build up some REAL bone strength, then taper off the Actonel?
Because I’ve been fighting my way back to health for 8 long years, and I’m tired. I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.
And I’ll be damned if Actonel is going to stand in my way.